Bildad the Shuhite and Todd Akin the Republican

Moralism is an expression of self-righteous pride.

That’s where it always winds up. Always. But it doesn’t always start there.

Sometimes it starts in fear.

Think back to those archetypal moralists: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. Job’s three friends, it is often noted, are good friends to him right up until the point when they start talking. Then things go downhill pretty fast and they make themselves out to be such fools that thousands of years later their names are still synonymous with foolishness.

But put yourself in Bildad’s shoes and try to imagine this story from a Shuhite view.

Job is the best person you know. He hasn’t done anything wrong. Ever. And yet his life has suddenly and ferociously been reduced to misery. He has lost everything — his family, his wealth, his home, his health. All of it was swept away in a single calamitous day, just like that.

There you sit on the ashes, in the debris of what was once a happy, prosperous life, but where now nothing remains except pain, loss, rubble and suffering.

That would have to be terrifying.

Job seemed safe, but now you realize he wasn’t. And now you know — in terms too vivid to deny — that you are not safe either. Now you know that safety is never anything more than an illusion. Everything you know, everything you love, everything you rely on could be swept away capriciously and suddenly, without explanation and without recourse.

That’s intolerable. How can you carry on, knowing that?

In the best lines from Job’s friends we see them grappling with that. We see them trying to confront the terrifying contingency and fragility of the human condition. “Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward,” Eliphaz says.

But it’s more than they can bear. They see it, but they quickly look away.

They need an explanation, and so they latch on to one. If only Job somehow deserved all of this pain and calamity. If he had done some evil thing for which this was some kind of just punishment, then safety might still be possible. If Job would only confess, admit to some sin, then we could know to avoid that sin and, thereby, to avoid his fate.

If suffering is always earned and deserved, then suffering can always be avoided. We might still be safe.

And so — desperately, out of fear — Job’s friends retreat into moralism and the illusion of safety it promises them.

That, I think, is often one attraction of moralism: the false promise of safety from calamity and capricious suffering.

And that, I think, is part of why the magical, victim-blaming urban legend recently repeated by Rep. Todd Akin remains so popular throughout the religious right, throughout evangelicalism and American Catholicism, throughout the Republican Party and throughout America.

I don’t think it’s the only reason, or even the main reason, for this, but I think part of the reason that Akin and so many others cling to this weird, cruel, moralistic nonsense is that it offers the illusion of safety and protection from capricious violence and suffering.

How can one carry on if one knows that life-altering violence could strike, unbidden and undeserved, at any time for anyone? By imagining that the victims of such violence somehow deserve it, while we do not, meaning that we are safe.

That line of defense won’t entirely manage to keep the fear at bay, though. Doubts and facts will work their way over and around it, with counter-examples eroding its ability to shield us from fear. As much as we need to or want to, we won’t quite be able to sustain the idea that all such victims have somehow earned their suffering. We will know of, or hear of, or even simply imagine the hypothetical possibility of, some victims we are unwilling or unable to dismiss to such a fate. And thus we bolster the moralism of victim-blaming with the second part of Akin’s urban legend — the fantastical idea that in the rare case of a virtuous, undeserving victim, there will be some kind of magical, biological defense to protect them from the consequences of this calamity.

Sometimes moralism starts in fear. That fear is understandable and unavoidable. That fear is deeply, sympathetically human. The humans experiencing such fear, just like Bildad et. al., deserve a measure of our sympathy even while we must not hesitate to condemn the self-righteous pride and the epic foolishness of the moralism that such fear ultimately produces.

  • Hth

    Fred’s point helps explain why the more female-dominated a jury is in a rape trial, the better it tends to be for the defense, counterintuitively.  Sure, misogyny is often in play in rape culture, but women have a very vested interest in exactly this kind of logic: she must have been different from me in some way — let’s find the way, so I can reassure myself that if I’d been in her situation, I would have been safe.

    Also, RidgewayGirl might have overstated a little when she said men don’t feel that they might get raped, but her point was clearly that *Todd Akin* in no way believes he could ever be raped, and I’d bet my (nonexistent) fortune that she’s right.

  • Dan Audy

    Because the culture of secrecy around male sexual assault and rape creates an illusion of safety among men who haven’t been victims.  Women who haven’t been victimized know several female relatives or friends who have been victimized because they are able to speak openly about it while men almost never know which of their male family and friends have been.  Women who make decisions out of a concern of sexual assault who haven’t personally been victimized are doing so because their awareness of the experiences of others informs their concerns and awareness.  The isolated way men deal with it prevents men from learning from their brothers, fathers, and friends how to be cautious.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    The isolated way men deal with it prevents men from learning from their brothers, fathers, and friends how to be cautious.

    Yes. It also prevents them from reporting it, which allows predators to continue their operations, sometimes for decades. Nor do men seem to learn these things from their mothers, sisters, and friends.

  • Emcee, cubed

     I don’t disagree with this (though I think there are more important factors), but it has nothing to do with the point I understood Lliira was making. It appears to me that she is saying that men are more likely to victim-blame in cases of rape because they fear a loss of privilege, which is different than victim-blaming  because of fear of being a victim oneself. Her reasoning for this belief seems to be that, while men could be victims, they don’t focus on that in any way, the way almost all women do.

    Now, you can disagree with that idea. (For instance, I think it could be possible that it’s a fear for one’s loved ones as well, as someone else mentioned earlier. Though for Akin, specifically, I think she more right than wrong.) But to  say “Men get raped too, we just don’t hear about it” doesn’t actually address anything she said.

  • Emcee, cubed

     I’m trying to avoid the derail here, because as my earlier comment says, I don’t think this was how Lliira was bringing up the topic. But while I agree that male rape doesn’t get reported as often, and men don’t talk about it, you aren’t going to convince me that it happens with anywhere near the prevalence of female rape. (and I think it would drop considerably lower if you discounted prisons, which is a separate culture from the outside) So even if men didn’t keep it secret, handle it alone, however you want to say it, it would be quite possible that the average man didn’t know anyone close to them that was a victim. So I still don’t think men would have the same acknowledgement of the possibility that women do.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I’m trying to avoid the derail here

    (nods) Fair enough. As I said initially, I generally avoid this topic on the Internet for precisely this reason. I’m happy to drop the subject altogether if you prefer.

    you aren’t going to convince me that it happens with anywhere near the prevalence of female rape.

    Sure, nor will I try to.

    even if men didn’t keep it secret [..] I still don’t think men would have the same acknowledgement of the possibility that women do.

    You may well be right.
    Personally, I have no idea what would happen if I lived in such a world.

  • Vass

    When I first read Job, what struck me most was just how good Job’s friends were, up until they opened their mouths. They just sat with him silently, for a whole week, and just stayed with him. That was actually excellent friend behaviour. Rereading that chapter again, what strikes me now is that they were sympathetic right up until he himself started complaining.

    I guess he wasn’t a perfect victim. I’ve had that happen, and seen that happen: there are people who’ll shower you with sympathy right up until you yourself express any sense of discontent. Then you’re a whiner. This is behind all those ‘motivational’, ‘inspirational’ macros about disability, the ‘no excuses’ one. “The only disability is a bad attitude” and so on. You’re allowed to lose your family and oxen and home and be stricken with leprosy, just not to say out loud that actually you feel a bit bad about it all.

  • WhiteBirch

    *cheer*

  • Matri

    Well, the Catholic Church sure has decades of experience with young boys being sexually assaulted.

    You’d think they would remember something like that…

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     What I don’t get is why more people don’t try advocating for a societal
    system that makes mistakes and mishaps easier to recover from, rather
    than harder?

    I don’t understand why, but rightwingers in the the USA seem very attracted to the ;one strike and you’re out’ social design.  I guess they figure It can never happen to them….

  • reynard61

    “Bildad the Shuhite? Heretic! All true believers follow the creed of the Sandalites!”

    “Sandalites”?! More like “scandalites” if you ask me! (I know you weren’t, but just play along for a second…) Everyone knows that baring one’s soles is the best way to bare one’s soul! (Ha! See what I did there? ;-) )

  • fraser

     And it’s frequently portrayed that way in fiction: “Well, we weren’t able to send him to death row, but at least he’ll get raped a lot in prison, so Justice Was Served.”

  • fraser

     I believe it’s primarily older women, particularly those with sons.
    One of the things that drove me nuts about Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full is that when the protagonist is asked to lend some support to an accused rapist, Wolfe ducks any awkward moral implications by having the protagonist’s wife (late fifties, I think) inform him that she spoke to the girl before it happened, and it was obviously consensual. We’re supposed to take this as gospel apparently, but as we don’t hear the conversation recounted, it could just as easily be the wife reading sluttiness into the woman’s comments.

  • Isabel C.

     
    in the rare case of a virtuous, undeserving victim, there will be some kind of magical, biological defense to protect them from the consequences of this calamity.

    …so “science has made abortion safe and relatively physically non-traumatic” doesn’t count, I guess. I always feel like our ability to protect *ourselves* is pretty inspiring, but hey: I am not Aikin. Thank God.

    I haven’t consciously changed my life because of the possibility of rape/assault, but I’d be prepared to believe that I’m rare there. Haven’t really talked to a lot of people about it in meatspace.  

  • Eminnith

    “American Catholicism”

    I see what you did there.

  • Lori

     

    Wolfe ducks any awkward moral implications by having the protagonist’s
    wife (late fifties, I think) inform him that she spoke to the girl
    before it happened, and it was obviously consensual. We’re supposed to
    take this as gospel apparently, but as we don’t hear the conversation
    recounted, it could just as easily be the wife reading sluttiness into
    the woman’s comments. 

    Aside from the fact that the wife may have misunderstood the victim’s comments, there’s another major issue—-consent isn’t given in advance like that. Even if at some point thw woman was intending to have sex with the man, it’s still rape if she changes her mind and he doesn’t stop. Unless the wife wants to claim that she was there the whole time her perspective is pretty worthless.

    I really wish that people who don’t understand rape wouldn’t try to write about it because that way lies badness every time.

  • Baeraad

    I’d like to agree with everyone who thinks that Fred is being a little too charitable to the likes of  Akin. I really can’t imagine that he’s acting from fear. What would he have to be afraid of? Bad things happen to good people, yes, and to smart people, and to wary people, but they generally don’t happen to people like Akin. He’s wrapped in his protective bubble of privilege, if not entirely invulnerable than at least pretty damn unlikely to have to face anything he can’t deal with.

    No, I think what he stands to lose is his view of human beings as proud, noble, glorious creatures who cannot be demeaned or brought low except when they allow themselves to be. Whose very nature will reject violation and only ever grow stronger from suffering. Do you think that a woman’s body would allow itself to become host to the offspring of some rapist scum? What sort of misanthrope are you – of course it will reject any unwelcome semen, just like it will shrug off any disease or injury unless it has been weakened by degeneracy. To think otherwise is a betrayal of your own magnificence as a human being.

    That’s what I think is at stake for people like Akin. Not something as selfish but at the same time sympathy-inspiring as his own sense of well-being. Not even his sense of being better than others – or at least, I believe that if nothing bad ever happened to anyone, he wouldn’t be disappointed, but would nod smugly in the satisfied certainty that it was because everyone had abandoned the corruption that was the only thing bringing them low. No, he stands to lose his hippie-dippie feel-good fantasy about the inherent nobility of Man.

    How does that saying go? “Conservatives love America but hate everyone who lives in it”? I think that this is what’s going on here. I think that Akin is so filled with love and admiration for Humans that he has nothing but contempt to spare for anyone who commits the sin of being human.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    Aside from the fact that the wife may have misunderstood the victim’s
    comments, there’s another major issue—-consent isn’t given in advance
    like that. Even if at some point the woman was intending to have sex
    with the man, it’s still rape if she changes her mind and he doesn’t
    stop. Unless the wife wants to claim that she was there the whole time
    her perspective is pretty worthless.

    I really wish that people who don’t understand rape wouldn’t try to write about it because that way lies badness every time.

    I remember someone online proclaiming that “consent in advance” is how pornography works, therefore all pornography is rape. The fact that this had no more basis in reality than Akin’s medieval understanding of conception is fairly telling, I think, about how little value some people place on reality compared to ideology.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What is this ‘consent in advance’ thing? I mean, I can see how it would be a relevant term for planning out the enactment of a rape fantasy, as getting explicit consent at the time from the person fantasizing about being raped would kind of break the mood, and the same would apply to certain BDSM scenes, but in either case safeword the hell out of that because what I wanted yesterday isn’t necessarily what I want today and what I wanted ten seconds ago isn’t necessarily what I want now.

    A porn actor is consenting to perform sex acts on camera, often for money, with the understanding that ze will have limited or no control over who sees the images. I don’t know how a porn film stage works, but I imagine they all have a plan in place for if an actor withdraws consent midscene. The porn actor is not consenting to be involved in the sex acts of anybody who sees the images, but, one, the porn actor is not by most definitions involved in those sex acts (not a participant, nor a spectator, nor someone to whom a participant or spectator has sworn to be sexually loyal), and two, if we had to ask consent before we could let someone star in our private fantasies, Angelina Jolie wouldn’t have time for anything except answering those requests.

    I can buy the term ‘sexual assault’ as including ‘one seeing sexy pictures or a sex tape featuring someone who made those images for a limited audience that doesn’t include one’ and ‘one sharing such images with people who weren’t meant to see them’, and certainly ‘one making sexy pictures or a sex tape of someone who hasn’t consented to perform sex acts on camera’. But if everyone involved in every stage of porn production and consumption is consenting at every point in which they’re involved, and the actors all knew before consenting that they wouldn’t have much if any control over the audience composition, then nobody’s getting sexually assaulted.

    And if, despite the above, there’s still somebody asserting that all pornography is rape, I’d like that somebody to be made aware of erotic fiction and of the types of erotic art where the artist is drawing from the imagination, not from models. Assuming nobody’s producing or consuming that unwillingly, who could possibly be the rape victim here?

  • LouisDoench

     Well get thee to a Public Library and get watching, there is so much good there!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     The argument was that, having signed a contract, porn performers are thus unable to withdraw consent at any time thereafter during the shoot. Seriously.

    The anti-porn crusader in question only applied this highly specious claim to female performers, evidently because she bought into the rape culture message that there’s no such thing as a man not consenting to a sex act with a woman.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    May be TMI

    Ohg V erpnyy ernqvat n fgbel bapr bs n zna jub qvqa’g cnl nggragvba gb gur “gnc bhg” zrffntrf n jbzna jnf tvivat uvz ba fgntr ertneqvat beny frk, naq gur nsgrezngu jnf zbfg cerwhqvpvny ntnvafg gur thl’f shgher pnerre va cbea.

    (I decided to ROT13 – content warning: discussion of sexual activity, not my own though)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     Sounds plausible. News of events like that spreads very quickly through the industry, and can lead to effectively being blacklisted.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Again possible TMI: there is actually a wiki for porn stars.

    (Believe me, I didn’t exactly go looking, but mistyping James Dean’s name tends to lead to some, er, illunimating results)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     One of the rules of the internet: there is a wiki for everything.

    Plus, “Why you think the Net was born?”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV7ou6pl5wU&feature=related


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X